It is fascinating to watch the manner in which social media are affecting the political landscape. They are causing a gradual transformation in how we perceive -- and ultimately elect -- our candidates for public office.
Several weeks ago, when Rick Santorum was in the race for the Republican nomination, he trended as the most talked-about candidate on Twitter. Unfortunately for him, those tweets were negative in context. In contrast, Mitt Romney seemed to receive the most positive mentions. Now that every other Republican presidential candidate has dropped out of the race, he is trending even more positively. No surprise there because he is now alone in the pack.
This raises an interesting question: Now that we are fully into general election campaign mode, how will each candidate use social media to enhance their campaigns and to win the hearts and minds of the electorate?
If history is a guide, then Barack Obama should have the advantage over Mitt Romney in terms of social media. Four years ago, the Washington Post named Obama the "King of Social Media." It would be safe to say that Obama has established a "social media presidency" with his proactive engagements on Twitter and Facebook that same attempt to connect simultaneously on personal and political levels.
And what about the Republicans? That's hard to say, but social media data associated with the accounts of the candidates and their electoral campaigns may offer some insight.
Here is a rudimentary Social Media ScoreCard that shows, as of May 1st, how each candidate stands in terms of social media :
FB Likes: 26,180,266 with 283,819 "talking about this"
Twitter Followers: 14,809,137
Klout Score: 92
FB Likes: 1,660,071 likes with 126,990 "talking about this"
Twitter Followers: 475,006
Klout Score: 77
In other words, Obama seems to have an enormous lead in social media, especially with regards to Twitter. That should be no surprise. Obama and his campaign have been tweeting and posting on Facebook for more than four years. Romney is still a relative newcomer to social media. Or at least, it seems so.
But these numbers will change, and I for one will be curious to see how they grow or contract as each campaign unfolds and we discover more about the candidates. I will also be anxious to track the rates of change -- to see whether Romney's Twitter followers and Facebook likes grow faster than Obama's, and to see whether Obama's numbers -- as large as they are -- have reached a plateau.
And could Romney overtake Obama on the ScoreCard? Anything can happen.
Of course, these data sets are merely an exercise in reading tea leaves. We are living through a time of enormous change in the way that public discourse is conducted. New media are propagating new ideas and different perceptions of our candidates, and every nuance is being examined in a news cycle that operates 24/7 on steroids.
And let's not forget that the only numbers that matter are the results on election day. Not everyone is on Facebook and Twitter. In fact, these social media skew younger. As such, they tell us very little about how older voters -- baby boomers in particular -- and they only measure the general population, not likely voters. So any interpretations of higher meaning must necessarily contain certain caveats.
I'm going to be updating the ScoreCard frequently. I will also delve into their Klout scores next week. Meanwhile, please share your thoughts on how these numbers affect your perceptions of the candidates. Does Obama's re-election seem inevitable? Do you think that Obama has more of a chance for reelection just because he is far ahead of the social media game? Or does Romney have a chance?
I say the swing vote is there to get. Study President Obama's every move on social media. It will be very interesting to watch!
Follow Eric Yaverbaum on Twitter: www.twitter.com/RealYaverbaum